The view from Montelcino
Catch up for Wednesday’s brain fugue & the dying battery….
After our bodily fueling, the high on the hill town of Montelcino was our destination! The road straightens into a linear path once off the Autostrada at Buonconvento, and it’s not long before an intriguing looking cluster of ancient buildings hugging a steep hilltop announce themselves…terra cottas, ambers, goldenrod blending from afar stand out like a cache of Homer’s sirens. Excitement always mounts when I see “castle-ige” – anything castle looking sticking up -- , and Montelcino offers a nice dose of that with its impressive fortessa and several clock tower/church tower structures. I had visited Montelcino when I was traveling solo a year ago, so it was extra special to share my wee bit of familiarity with Main Man Marty. This town is also the home of the coveted and famous Brunello wine…a mere mention of the name will bring a swoon to the stance of most Italians I’ve met!
Car parked (finally), we entered the town walls (all these towns of any size have impressive walls around them…had to keep out the bad guys, or at least try!) and didn’t walk too far before we found our desired restaurant…a tiny little place secreted inside an ancient building and run by the couple Roberta and Antonio. She cooks, he waits the tables. We had to wait a bit, and barely slipped in before the 2:00 close. Grateful, we thanked Antonio and decided to go with the “Roberta’s Suggestion”, a full course meal featuring a lovely antipasto of typical Tuscan pleasures of uber thin prosciutto, pancetta, and salume, along with a sampling of crostini. One plate would’ve been enough for 3 people, and Antonio gave me a little grief over not finishing. I assured him it was wonderful, but was “abastansa” – enough – or I would never finish the rest of my meal! And before I forget, we absolutely had to add a small (pricey stuff!) bottle of Brunello to our table – very lovely, indeed! The primi was a delicately baked cheese and mushroom dish with pasta sheets thinner than the skin of the hautiest diva. It was exquisite. Didn’t think I could finish, but Antonio gave me “the eye”…so I happily found room! Our secundi was a butter-tender slice of beef cooked in a red wine sauce that I’m still trying to figure out. It was mouthwatering delicious…oh my. We were full to the brim, but still found space, of course, for the dessert offerings. We had a beautifully presented dish of panna cotta, an elegantly simple cream custard, all dolled up in a snazzy mixed berry sauce, and another of tiramisu, that lovely, iconic lady finger, espresso, and custard union. They were indeed as tasty as they were pretty to gaze upon. Roberta is a genius, and we asked Antonio to please share our bravas and gratitude with her. Oh, and this place was yet another delightful medieval space of two rooms entered through a tiny door, with a surprisingly large lower floor where the bathrooms were situated. We’re finding that all these spaces come fitted with the same lower level bathrooms (the architect in 1165 surely couldn’t have known to plan ahead for space upstairs)…and who knows – they may even connect under the streets just as the myriad of alleys and walkways so angularly and efficiently connect the world above them.
Full and satisfied, we set out and explored a bit more of Montelcino …and hopefully burned off a handful of those calories we so enjoyed by way of our climb up onto the ramparts of the fortessa. The views found there were expansive and grand. Clouds had formed a bit by afternoon, but this was a mere bonus as the shadows and lighting added such texture and interest to the vistas before us. As far as the eye can see, one is gifted with that ever changing, yet so constant Tuscan landscape. I truly hope some of Marty’s really-good-camera photos catch the essence of what the eye and soul view...to share it would be a joyful thing.
Finishing up Friday, May 4th ….
Ok…let’s see…when we last checked in on the two wandering Reynolds, they were having an exciting time at the lavanda (laundry mat)!! Actually, the day of no plans and hanging loose turned into a really fine one! We decided to load up and head out only with a vague idea of where to go. After a cardinal direction was decided upon, we steered towards the small town of Panzano. We’d been through there last October, but didn’t stop. My recollection of that almost-visit was of finding myself driving up a steep, veeery narrow cobbled street with an end that looked like we’d have to drive straight through the chiusa (church)! It was much more fun to wander up the same street on foot. We didn’t get far, however, before we entered conversation with the amusing, warm, and jovial Stefano, owner of the Academia del Buon Gusto, a whimsically decorated shop offering many local delicacies. A Bocelli song playing in the background is what made us take pause initially, and when Stefano noticed, he stepped out to say hello…with his wonderful medieval style hat and apron on, but more noticeable – his bright smile and twinkling eyes. After a bit of conversation…Stefano being very kind in helping us along in Italian…I commented on how beautiful his eyes were. They were a soft jade green…maybe a shade or two lighter than an olive leaf. He told us his mother was Croatian; thus, his eyes. Ah…va bene! After some fun chat and exchanging of contact info (Stefano told us he learned of the Terlingua chili cookoff and wanted to go some day…he has our number for when that day comes!) we had to quickly walk through the rest of the tiny center, or centro (“chin-tro”), and head towards our next unexpected pleasure of the day—meeting our newest Italian friends, Lucio and Francesca, in Greve in Chianti!
I "met" Lucio when Marty and I signed up on Conversation Exchange as a means to help/receive help with native Italian speakers either over Skype or just through email. Lucio and I traded periodic emails, and both being teachers, we agreed to “grade” the other's typing of mistakes. It worked well, and when this trip was planned, we decided we all needed to meet. It didn’t hurt, either, that their town is only about 15 miles as the crow flies from Castellina in Chianti.
We found our way to each other in Greve, and commenced to talk and get to know one another as we strolled the unusual triangular shaped main piazza in Greve. It was then decided we’d find some nice vino, and with the info gleaned on the street by Francesca, we found our way to an amazing tasting room a street or two off the centro. It operated via a card system; purchase a debit card of sorts, find the wine you’d like to taste (from literally thousands, I’d guess), pop the card in, push the button….salute! It was really quite fun as we got to taste some wines we’d never have done otherwise. The dessert was getting to sit and visit more with Lucio and Francesco – a truly warm and likeable couple.
What a beautiful couple!
They both are way (way!) ahead of us in language acquisition, but seemed to genuinely appreciate our attempts, as well as agree that Italian is a difficult language to master. I’ll just be glad when I’m a little past the stage of an 18 month old! We parted, but agreed to find an evening to have that TexMex meal I’d promised them via an email. How? Well, I packed some corn tortillas, those Taco Bell style freeze-dried frijoles, taco seasoning, and packaged Spanish rice. Add a little Italian beef, lettuce, and tomatoes, and I’m hoping we’ll produce some decent tostados – ole!
Home on the late side, we opted for a quick dinner in town (I really must start writing down these restaurant names!), gobbled it up, then came back to get ourselves to sleep at an hour conducive to an early rise…finally.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?
All photos used in this blog were taken by the author, the author's husband or friends, or found by way of images.google.com. Photo credit is given when possible.